The Tension between Trust in God and Reliance on One's Gifts

4 November 2006: Saturday of the 30th Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 14, 1, 7-11: St. Charles Borromeo

The Gospel today teaches us about humility by choosing a simple illustration. If an undistinguished guest arrives early and chooses the top place, and soon after, a distinguished guest arrives and the man who took the top place is asked to step down, the situation will be very embarrassing. On the other hand, if a person who deliberately occupies the lower place, and then is asked to occupy the distinguished place, the humility of the person then gains him all the more honor.

For Filipinos, this is what humility is. We do not occupy the front pews at mass. We do not volunteer ourselves when we all know that the task to be given is very much within our competence. We would rather that others volunteer for us, lest we will appear to be mayabang, or proud. When we come to a party, the hosts has to invite us several times before we raid the buffet table; and pretend not to be too eager to eat. All these things show we are humble though in reality we are foolish.

The key towards humility is to know the facts: that all things come from God. All things are God’s gifts to us. Therefore we do not own what we have. And finally, the key to humility is know God’s gifts and share it with others. However, when should we trust God, and when should we hone our skills? It is indeed a tension between trusting in God, and the use of our talents.

Our life should begin with a trust in God. But it does not end there. It is not easy to keep that primacy before one’s eyes, especially if one has spent a great deal of time and effort in honing skills and imbibing knowledge. You see we might justify our laziness as pure trust in God. It might be easier to forego study and training in order to put all one’s trust in God. One might say: “If I avoid studying and training, then I will not be tempted to take pride in my accomplishments.”

But on the other hand, we need to participate in God’s grace, by honing our skills and talents. In a way, we are to rely on our talents, skills and training. Even if we have prayed several times that the Lord will make you a good singer, but if we ourselves will not practice, we will never become one. To be a good singer, one has to sing. To be a good instrumentalist, one has to practice playing musical instruments. To be a good engineer, one has to study.

Thus, the tensions involved in trusting and God and in one’s talents and insights can only be creative and life-giving if they are present in the person. They say we pray because what we will do is important; our actions can be in tune with God’s intention or not. We want to make sure that our actions are in tune with God’s project; we want to get it right, in other words. So, we pray for god’s light and guidance as we ponder what to do. After we have discerned how to act in tune with God, then we can engage in that action with complete trust in god to bring about what God wants to effect.

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